I don’t know how many of my readers have heard about the original Netflix Series, ’13 Reasons Why’, but after learning about this show, I decided to watch it myself to see what all the hullabaloo was about. The premise of the show is learning about Hannah, and the ‘13 Reasons Why’ she committed suicide. She records her story on 13 cassette tapes, and the ‘star’ of each tape and her connection to this person is narrated during one show. The show flashes from past to present, detailing how this person hurt her, or how they let her down.
After finishing the series my feelings are quite mixed. On the one hand, it does bring awareness to mental health and suicide. But on the other hand, the list of how many ways they miss the boat on advocating for mental health and suicide awareness is long and varied. The kids in this show are going through some very difficult things, but it doesn’t mention talking to your parents or asking for help from adults until episode 13, at the very end. The number of times Hannah and the other characters could have asked for help from an adult…any adult, was displayed in every episode.
What can parents do? I cautiously recommend you watch the show. If you have adolescents, I recommend you watch the show with them and discuss it as the episodes progress. If you or your child has experienced trauma, you may be triggered by the scenes of bullying and assault, so I caution you that intrusive memories may resurface, as well as increased feelings of depression and anxiety. You know your child, their maturity, and if they can ‘handle’ some of the more graphic scenes, such as the rape and Hannah’s suicide (I fast forwarded through those, I didn’t need or want to see all that). This may sound confusing to some, especially after I admitted I didn’t care for the show. However, adolescents will either watch it because they like it, or watch it because their peers are, and they want to know why. Teens are nothing but, ‘fit in with the crowd’ types of people – it is imperative to their survival in middle and high school. The show narrates very well what people will do to keep their popularity, to not stand out with their peers. It also narrates quite well the consequences of ostracism and how very fickle popularity can be. A few parents have told me their kids had seen a few episodes, unbeknownst to them, and other parents have said their child watched it even after they were told not to. A final note on this, kids whose parents have frequent and open and honest discussions with them about sex, drugs, and drinking, are less likely to engage in those behaviors and more likely to go to their parents with questions or concerns.
I’ve mentioned the show can be used as a source of dialogue between parents and their children. It covers many difficult, but important topics our kids are facing in this world. Our job as parents, pastors, and educators is to give our children as much knowledge, skills, and abilities to live as faith filled adults, out on their own, without our daily presence ensuring they make the ‘right’ choice. One way to accomplish that is to ask questions and then listen to their answers.
I’ve listed some discussion questions or comments you can make to your children while watching the show. If you feel nervous about saying something, be brave and push ahead anyway. If we want our kids to talk to adults when they’re struggling to find the courage and the words, don’t we need to be a good example of doing the same? Don’t worry if they don’t say anything back, and don’t push for an answer. Think of it as placing thoughts for consideration in their head. Just because they don’t answer you, doesn’t mean they won’t think about what you commented on, or what you asked. They could be watching the show, feeling uncomfortable about something portrayed, but not have the words at that time to discuss it. Your comment, without pressure, could offer them some much needed reflection and prayer time.
– I wonder how much of this is true, what do you think?
– It seems the kids let gossip get out of hand. I wonder if they wish they could take it back?
– Or, Wow, this really shows how gossip spreads and the other person’s side to the story. (Because there are always two sides to the story) It makes you wonder how often we believe information from other people without questioning the accuracy.
– I wonder how often we treat people poorly without having the full story? I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it.
– It makes me so sad that Hannah (and other kids in the series) were going through some very difficult things, but never reached out to an adult for help.
– It seems the kids spend a lot of time feeling misunderstood, and sometimes they try to communicate better with someone, but more often they don’t. I bet you’ve felt the same way with us, or with other people. Let me know what we can do better.
– It appears that these kids think if their parent is disappointed or disagrees with their child’s behavior it also means their parent is judging them. Even when we say, ‘what were you thinking, or how could you do that?’ we’re often just at a loss for words and fall back on these phrases.
– As kids get older, they pull away from their parents, and that’s natural and the way it’s supposed to be. But I wonder how kids can still let their parents know what interests them and what they’re thinking and feeling.
– These kids don’t seem to know what to do to make their bullies stop. They try to ignore it or laugh it off. They must feel so helpless or hopeless. What do you think would work better?
– I wonder how you can help make someone’s life better at school? Have lunch with someone sitting alone, smile or say hello to the person who appears to be a loner?
If you find yourself struggling to communicate with your teen, or wonder if they’re feeling depressed or anxious, LFS is here to help.
Courtney Frerichs, LMHC
Director of Counseling Services